Prophetic Literature

The primary duty of Prophets was to answer human questions by consulting the Lord and delivering "Oracles" (Massa or burden, perhaps associated with the ritual raising of the right hand for oath taking) (Deborah in Judges 4:4; Micaiah and the 400 Prophets in 1 Kings 22; Jeremiah 21; 37:3-10; Isaiah 37:5; Ezekiel 14).

Many oracles are constructed around word play (Amos 3:13-15; 8:1-2; Jeremiah 1:11-12; Isaiah 7:3; 8:1).

The most common is the 'Salvation Oracle', of liturgical origin, promising God's comfort, eg: "Fear not"; "I have redeemed you" etc and then: "I will be with you" and then perhaps a rationale: "I have done this for you because..." (Jeremiah 1:6-8; Joel 2:19-27; but most fully in exiled Isaiah, Isaiah 33; 41; 43-44; 49).

The most recorded form of prophecy is divine message (the most famous and elaborate example is Isaiah 6). This takes the form of, eg: "In the past you have done this"; "You have transgressed"; and now: "I will therefore do this" (Jeremiah 4:22; Haggai 2:4; Zechariah 8:11). This is usually followed by an invocation of God (for a classic example see Amos 7).

Other literary devices include the "Woe" declamation (Isaiah 5; Jeremiah 22), the Lamentation (Lamentations; Isaiah 16:8-11), the trial model (Amos 3:9-11), hymns (other than the Psalms) (Isaiah 52:7-10; Amos 4:13; 5:8; 9:5-6). None of this, in prose or poetry, has any function in separating fact from fiction; what we have is the reaction of people to the phenomenon which may even be more important than the phenomenon itself.

Editors tried to collect oracles such as those concerning foreign nations (Isaiah 13-23; Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32; Amos 1-2) or to connect them with a common link (eg Sodom and Gomorrah in Isaiah 1:9; 1:10). The rhetorical arrangements such as oracles against nations only have one point (as the foreigners would never read them); to warn Israel, eg: "If you think foreigners have misbehaved, it's even worse for you, Israel ... whom I brought out of Egypt ...".. Isaiah's Chapters against foreigners (13-23) and the world (24-7) are followed by bitter attacks on his own people (28-33); and Jeremiah on the fall of nations (46-51) is followed by the fall of Jerusalem (52). But most collections end with comfort and hope (Amos 9; Isaiah 12; 34-35). (To understand this point you may need to see Study Sheet 5 on Isaiah). Although the device sometimes looks clumsy, relatively matter-of-fact prose narrative is inserted between highly coloured passages in order to give concreteness to the whole (eg Isaiah 36-39 on Hezekiah between 34-35 and 40-55).

Who wrote these books? Jeremiah, for example, was written by the same 'School' as the Deuteronomic history (Joshua-Kings) during the exile within a generation of the prophet; Northern prophets such as Amos and Hosea were also collected in exile but by a Judean.

Taken from:

Sawyer, John F.A.: Prophecy And The Biblical Prophets, OUP (revised 1991 edition), Chapter 2. The Prophetic Literature, pp26-41.

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